Sunless – Ylem (Review)

Sunless - YlemThis is the second album from Sunless, a death metal band from the US.

2017’s Urraca was a very notable and enjoyable release for me, even making it into that year’s end of year list. Progressive, technical, dissonant, avant-garde, psychedelic, and many other high-brow-esque appellations, Urraca was a multidimensional gateway to forward-thinking heaviness from a band who clearly knew their art well.

Which brings us to Ylem.

Across 39 minutes of darkened chaos Sunless continue where Urraca left off, and then expand outwards into wider frothing and unfriendly waters.

Much like the band’s debut album, Ylem strikes an unexpected balance between claustrophobic dissonance and expansive heaviness. Most dissonant death metal bands focus too much on the former, sometimes to the point of impenetrability, but somehow Sunless avoid this common pitfall. The band’s songs are certainly formidable and swamped in dissonance, but amazingly they have also mastered the art of allowing their songs to breathe freely despite this. It’s a remarkable feat that I still marvel at on Urraca, and I am very happy that this effect has been replicated and achieved once more on Ylem, despite the latter’s increased technical intensity.

Sunless’ songwriting has developed further. Ylem is a seething mass of complex rhythms, dissonant melody, twisted atmosphere, and warped song structure. It is as impressive as it is incomprehensible, and yet this is no barrier to enjoyment; Sunless craft music that you don’t need to understand in order to get swept away by; its dissonant tides are strong.

The songs are nuanced and detailed. The compositions are intricate and complex, yet also manage to just let the music ebb and flow. Jagged and barbed the album may be, but it still moves with fluid purpose and grace. This is music with depth and character. I swear there’s more of a Death influence this time around too, at least in places.

The dense delivery of such complex material is wonderfully offset by the band’s sense of immediacy and vibrant life. This is music-as-art, but it’s also music as a joyous worship of atypical heaviness, ferocious intent, and  hypnotic churn. Part of Sunless’ appeal is that their music takes the esoteric experimental nature of the style and delivers it in such a way that it sounds fun to listen to, but without compromising the individual and expressive core of the style’s progressive dissonance. It’s a rare achievement, and it’s just one of many that makes Ylem so compelling. It also allows Sunless to easily ascend to the top of the dissonant death metal pile, in my humble opinion.

Ylem is bold, confident, and impressive. If you’re a fan of this sort of progressive/dissonant/whatever death metal, then Ylem is an essential experience.

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